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Why going swimming has been 'absolutely life-changing for my physical health'

One of the stars of the latest Swim England #LoveSwimming campaign has told how the benefits of swimming on her physical health has been ‘absolutely life-changing’.

Wanda Stockdale, from Gateshead, said she felt like an ‘old lady’ after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her early 30s.

The condition, coupled with a serious back injury, meant she was told she would need to use a walking stick for the rest of her life.

But following a recommendation from her physio to go swimming, Wanda said she has now ‘claimed her life back’.

Wanda admits she wasn’t a confident swimmer but, after having lessons, is now swimming three times a week and taking on various challenges in the pool.

“The benefits of swimming on my physical health have been absolutely life-changing,” said Wanda, who has been featured in the latest Swim England #LoveSwimming campaign titled Moving Medicine.

“I felt like I was an old lady before I was even 40 and that my life had become planning around my health problems. Swimming has made me realise there is still lots I can do – it’s given me purpose and the health benefits have been massive.

“I’ve totally claimed my life back from where I was four years ago and swimming has played a vital role.”

“I’m thrilled to be part of the #LoveSwimming campaign and share my story in the hope I’ll inspire others to take up swimming.”

In the UK, more than 10 million people have arthritis or other, similar conditions that affect the joints. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting nearly nine million people.

Statistics from NHS Online indicate that 78 per cent of people with arthritis experience pain most days – but physical activity reduces the risk of developing joint and back pain by 25%.

Zoe Chivers, head of services at Versus Arthritis, said: “Wanda’s story is an amazing example of the real benefits exercise can have for people with long-term health conditions such as arthritis. 

“In fact, exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your condition as it strengthens your muscles, eases stiffness and improves joint movement.
“Swimming, in particular, is great for people with arthritis as it’s a low-impact form of exercise which puts less stress on your joints and makes it easier to move. 

“If you want to learn more about getting active or to find out what exercise might work best for you, talk to your GP, a health care professional or physiotherapist. We also have a free Helpline where you can get confidential advice and support on how best to get started.”

Wanda’s story is part of a wider campaign by Swim England and its 12 partners ahead of World Health Day on Sunday 7 April.

Swim England is urging the medical profession to be more proactive in prescribing swimming as part of a programme of activity to manage medical conditions and aid recovery. 

Evidence shows that one in four patients would be more active if advised by a health professional, yet nearly three quarters of GPs do not speak about the benefits of physical activity to patients due to either lack of knowledge, skills or confidence. (Source: Moving Medicine)

The current Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has called for a “culture shift” and for medical professionals to act on the evidence that activity, such as swimming or long walks, can cut the risk of illness and boost survival from major diseases.

Elaine McNish, head of Health and Wellbeing at Swim England said: “Swimming is an ideal activity which can help people manage a range of medical conditions and we are calling on the medical profession to consider recommending swimming to people who would benefit from improved physical health.

“To have the support of people like Wanda who’ve experienced the benefits swimming can have is fantastic and I sincerely hope it inspires others to try swimming and transform their physical health.

“As the government and medical profession increasingly move to prescribe exercise as a conduit to improved physical health, we believe that swimming and wider aquatic activity is increasingly the answer for many people and are calling on health professionals to consider prescribing swimming in ever increasing numbers.”